No 120 - 1990
Sojourn in Papua New Guinea
Break-In In Port Moresby
It’s dark…a feeling in the air, mosquitoes. Your eyes are open, yes…watching the bedroom door which you locked before going to bed. It’s open now, you can see it’s open, light from the security lights outside make that visible. A few seconds to take this in, to confirm how securely-locked that door was: it was ill-fitting, it stuck, it made a noise when you opened it; it was locked…Get up: careful, careful…Get up.
...Other doors open. Door of the bedroom opposite, Simon’s room on the far side of the sitting-room, open. Can he have come back in the middle of the night - stuff all over the floor of the sitting-room; I’m tripping over sandals, jeans etc. - can he have come back from patrol? In the kitchen the fridge door is wide open. Frozen fish from Simon’s freezer wedged in ice. Beyond all that the back door, open. Black outside, security lights not working on that side. I call tentatively: ‘Simon?’…Sitting-room fan on. Who would leave the door wide open like that with all this talk of security? The heavy wooden bar from the kitchen door lying on the floor: why didn’t they lean it up? I go outside, bare-foot, conscious that I’m barefoot, eerie in the middle of the night, and call; only then it really dawns on me that this is something else (Of course, all this happens in a matter of seconds). My stomach curdles, my feet shake. I come back in now and automatically check the rooms: door to dining-area open…But wooden bar inside the main door still in place. I cross back to the fridge - avoiding stuff on the floor - and check the fridge. Rows of eggs gone. Beer gone. There were two crates as I remember. One and a bit. Gone. The half-carton had some empties in it. Gone. Bits & pieces. Kitchen-cupboard doors open. Empty powdered milk tin on floor. Lemonade bottle where I didn’t remember leaving it last night
Yes, not Aipos (up country) but Port Moresby, my third night in the country, staying at the V.S.O. flat in Boroko. I’m not dreaming it, I seem to be reliving it here, every detail; sleeping in this house throws me back there…I don’t know what time it is. I’m thinking: in spite of perimeter fence and security lights and iron grills, iron bars on the windows; in spite of the dog, in spite of all this at that other place, the rascals came and went - thieves in the night, no less - without waking me; and I am known to be a light sleeper.
They had got in by way of Simon’s room, by ripping a couple of iron bars out - bending one right back and the other down, though I didn’t know that till morning, till daylight, when the police arrived. My impulse there and then - middle of the night - was to call John, the V.S.O. Field Director in Gerehu, until I realized they’d cut the telephone wire. It’s at this late stage that I begin to feel myself, yes, for hidden wounds. The suspicion that something so awful has happened to me that I can’t feel it, begins to take root…Back in the bedroom I notice the drawers open - again they were stiff, not properly-fitting: what if I had woken up?
More systematic checking now. Anyone in the bathroom? (Foolish). Notice now piles of stationery in the sitting-room - bought yesterday in case this sort of thing is hard to come by in Wabag - neat pile on the edge of the table last night, is now missing. Notice later that tins of food from the kitchen have also gone: impossible to know what’s really missing in somebody else’s home. The stuff on the sitting-room floor turns out to be the cushions from the easy chairs. It strikes me now, with the feeling of being hit low in the stomach, that among the missing stationery is my address-book, driving-licence and God knows what else.
What to do - middle of the night. They won’t come back the same night. I don’t know the time. No watch, no clock. I decide on a shower, mainly, I think, to make a bit of noise, and come out after a few seconds. I realize now the jeans on the sitting-room floor are mine: they were on the spare bed in my bedroom, with suitcase, plastic bags, etc. Fortunately - I hope it’s there, I daren’t look yet - the briefcase with documents, bits of poems, stories etc. is hidden at the bottom of one of the built-in cupboards in the bedroom. But they’ve cleaned out the pocket of my jeans. K130. They’ve taken my comb, too! (I know it’s K130 because that morning I drew K150 advance from V.S.O. and spent about K20 at the cut-throat supermarket. I knew I’d spent K20 because I remember wondering that if I continued spending at this rate, my V.S.O. monthly salary of K287.00 would last only a couple of weeks each month.
I begin now to realize my luck. In the bedroom the ironing-board is set up; a big heavy iron to the ready: what if I had woken up?
The loss of my address-book strikes home. Normally, it would be in my briefcase, but yesterday I was writing letters home, postcards, and left it out: wouldn’t it have been ironic if something had happened last night, and the cards nevertheless reached people next week, in two weeks’ time? Was having a black skin a factor either way?
The heightened sensibility thing again: I’m suddenly aware that the house is full of weapons, one wall is groaning with them - all those ceremonial spears and arrows whose wounds would be anything but ceremonial; some of them three-pronged, some with metal tips. Even the penis-protectors of the wild men near the Indonesian border could gore you like a bull. In the kitchen there is the bush-knife, handy. Heavy wooden bars everywhere. It’s endless. How to fill up the time till dawn? I sit down - all lights blazing in the house - and start to make a list. Who for? A list - for the Police…Insurance…For no one in particular. For me.
cupboard doors open, I write
my jeans discovered with two cushions on sitting-room floor.
Books don’t seem to have been disturbed. Why did they turn on
the sitting-room fan? What happened to the dog, the goddam dog?
Weapons everywhere; the heavy bars from the window.
Key in kitchen door. Lucky.
They don’t want pots & pans. Only food.
(I’m conscious this isn’t a list. So)
Not spices but tinned fish
a stale bread
left the wheat-germ but took the eggs
opened freezing compartment but seem not to have taken anything.
taken a video thing. (a video camera)
left my dictionary
chairs unarranged (worth listing?)
tin on floor
bottle just outside kitchen door (another weapon?)
Why the address-book? Simon’s not taken. Relief giving way to anger. Passport in pocket of raincoat - they left that. John’s certainly underestimated the risk of staying here. But if things were harder to come by, wouldn’t they resort to violence? (Would I get to interview someone like that, find out what was going on in his mind when he was standing guard over the sleeping victim: no, don’t get side-tracked.) I had a bad feeling about this place, anyway - all that security, lights, fence, iron, chains, dog. From now on, I’m going to follow my instinct.
I couldn’t concentrate on the list, and it was making me agitated; this wasn’t filling up the time, it was still dark, night. Write something else: fill up the time.
They were experts: would they have raped a woman?
I think about this for a very long time. And then:
They took not only my money, but my comb from my jeans pocket. Don’t like other people using my comb.
I covered several pages. Next morning, we found some papers in a pile in the back yard, and among them my address-book. On top of the pile was the meat-cleaver from the kitchen. When the police came - three of them - one turned out to be a Wabag man, and was more interested in arranging for us to meet up there than in the robbery; he was, like the others, infinitely more fascinated in my being British than in anything that had transpired during the night. But then, I forced the issue:
‘What would have happened had I woken up while the rascals were here?’
It was the man from Wabag who answered, and he was very relaxed about it:
‘Sometimes they leave you dead,’ he said.
An extract from More Pleasures of Exile: A P.N.G. Sojourn.
NOTE: (Among the people encountered above, Simon was a V.S.O; Mel (English) and Tony (Australian) worked for the World Bank; Conjeeta (Philippino) managed a couple of hotels/hostels for the Provincial Government, and the others are Papua New Guineans. E. A. Markham was a media-coordinator in PNG, Enga Province, 1983-85.)
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The